Thursday, March 10, 2011

Space Combat in the Black Desert: Crew Requirements of the Missile Craft

           While the primary in-game use of the Missile Craft design is actually going to be its civilian equivalent, I have already stated that most logical way to get a feel for the civilian IPVs is to design the military one.  Today's post will deal with how many people we can expect to see on one of these spacecraft, and what they will be doing.

           If you'll recall, the most important design consideration in a spacecraft is it's mission.  Since we're in "in-game" logic mode, this means the Missile Craft's military mission.  I gave a brief description of this in a previous post, but to expand on that, the mission of a Missile Craft IPV is to travel at high speed on extended patrols (about a year) around the Black Desert.  If called upon, the Missile Craft can travel to an asteroid node, attack it, and secure it as a base for their nation's military.  This can be done through interdiction; by filling the sky with debris from your missiles, or by threat.  Once the orbital space of an asteroid is secure, the outpost itself will be occupied and the asteroid's resources put to use.  The question is: how many eating, breathing and excreting people will this take? 

           The nature of realistic space travel is one of absolute minimalism: No space agency will design accommodations for two crew members when one will serve.  As a game designer, I would like to have as many potential NPCs for Players to interact with as possible, but as a Hard SF designer, I understand that I have to keep that number at a minimum in order maintain a plausible setting.   

           So, what's the minimum, anyway?  In reality, it's actually pretty minimal.  No matter where you stand on the "Future Space Force = Air Force or Navy" debate, the fact remains that the crew requirements on a spacecraft will be similar to that on aircraft.  For example, no matter how many people travel on a plane, be it the Air Force's most long-range command and control craft, or a 727 commuter, the number of crew needed to actually fly the plane is about 3 or 4.  I have sort of extended this in BD to five core crew positions: Flight Commander, Pilot, Flight Engineer, Life Support Officer and  Payload Officer.  Payload Officer is the current euphemism for a military officer that is assigned to civilian spaceflight in order to launch classified satillites and such; in The Black Desert, this antiquated term is used for a rocket's chief cargo handler, robotic operator, and weapons officer. 

           In the spirit of redundancy,  there will be two of these core crews on duty at all times.  In order to preserve the chain of command, there will also be a Mission Commander and a Deputy MCOM, raising the minimum to twelve.  Since IPVs have spin gravity, and connecting spin segments to the rest of the craft is a maintenance nightmare, I am going on the assumption that there will be a total of four core crews; two on watch at a time in a 24 on/24 off type of rotation.  The on watch crews will be in the free-fall sections of the craft, while the other crews will be in the spin habs.  These crews will still be on duty for a portion of the day, working on keeping the ship habitable and all systems in working order.   This type of watch bill will raise our minimum crew to twenty-two.

          Missile Craft, like all IPVs, have to have auxiliary spacecraft in order to move cargo and personnel from the ship to a planet's or asteroid's surface.  The minimum number of rockets needed for this will be two.  That being said, we could simply assign the off-watch crews to man these rockets if needed.  If we do that, however, any casualties suffered on the Missile Craft could not be replaced with fresh personnel, so I believe that the inclusion of additional crew will be considered a necessary expense.  Two more crews will raise our total to thirty-two.

          I've also stated that Missile Craft carry espatiers.  Assuming a company-level unit assigned, which should be enough to secure a medium-sized asteroid outpost, we will need a minimum of six more warm bodies as passengers.  Why so few?  In The Black Desert, robots are always used instead of people if possible.  So an espatier company will have one Major as Company Commander, a Captain as their deputy, a pair of Lieutenants as Platoon Commanders, and a pair of Sergeants as their deputies.  The rank-and-file soldiers in the company will all be combat robots that are coordinated and, if necessary, directly teleoperated, by the few human espatiers aboard.

          Six espatiers will raise the totals to thirty-eight.

          So, will there be anyone else aboard?  No one else is needed to run the Missile Craft or help it complete it's primary mission, so logic suggests no.  However, the Missile Craft does have a secondary mission; once an asteroid has been successfully secured, it must them be occupied and turned into a productive forward base.  This will require additional personnel.  I have no idea how many, really, but I kinda came up with a ballpark of forty or so, thus doubling the compliment of the Missile Craft for a grand total of seventy-eight.

          This is a lot of people; Rick Robinson would be vexed with me.  That being said, the primary restraints on high crew counts on a spacecraft have to do with the cost of supplying said ship for a mission.  The Black Desert solves many of these problems with the L-Drive; cost per kilogram of supplies lifted to orbit is not very high compared to now.  In addition, a year-long deployment is past the break-even point of 145 days where the inclusion of greenhouses and algae tanks is more cost effective that transporting additional cargo.  These two factors put together make such a high number of crew possible; and the nature of high military budgets in the face of less than cost effective solutions make the possible just this side of plausible.  I hope.

           Of course, plausible from a military perspective is different from a civilian one; will such a high compliment of organics be viable for the Missile Craft's privately owned and operated analogs?  I would think so; since passenger transport is a paying proposition, the cost of supplying so many people would be subsumed in the cost of their tickets.  This is no chump change, though; we're talking some serious price tags on express tickets to Mars.  Just how much is an economic issue, however, and will be covered in another post.

            Any comments on this topic, of course, are welcome.



  1. The numbers sound solid to me, but you may want to think a bit more about how they would take and hold ground for X period of time to set up the colony as a base. To me, most of those 40 would be espatiers (hmm, is there a Hindi, Spanish or Portuguese term for this? I don't see the Eurafros doing much with this) with some specialized functions in terms of psy ops, surveillance and counter-insurgency. Plus construction and fabbing experience to help repair any damage and get it modified to what they need.

    Also, I think you left out a function: Medical. At a minimum you're gonna want a doctor and a pharmacist's mate or two to help take care of that many people. Plus one or two medics to go off the ship with the espatiers to either save their bacon or help make nice with the local colonists.

  2. "Espatier" is derived from the French the same way that "Marine" is and is used for the space-borne equivalent; it has no specific national connotation. I use it because it sounds cool and I'm trying to help get it out there as an alternative to "Space Marine", which is starting to sound as dated as "Space Cadet".

    The bulk of a ground force would, of course, be robots; you could carry a regiment and have only half the passengers be espatiers. The would be as you listed above. But unless the outpost has a significant robot population of its own, It shouldn't take much more than that. Of course, the asteroid probably will have lots of Robots; that's why the Missile Craft starves the humans out first. One the outpost surrenders, the espatiers will be enough to keep order, as they will control the outpost's robots as well.

    As for medical staff, that duty falls under the occupation of the Life Support Officer, just as weapons, robotics, and cargo fall under PLO. This gives a general medical staff of 6 for a compliment of 78, which is more than adequate when one accounts for robotic medical assistance.

  3. From Trey Palmer via email:

    "I can see the medical types reporting to the LSO, but I'm not sure the LSO would be a medical type. From my (admittedly limited) understanding, life support is a mix of biology and engineering to keep the larger system alive and inhabitable. The doctors and any support team would be invaluable in helping diagnose life support problems and fix the crew from their impacts, but I think the training would be in different directions.
    As to the epsatiers, cool. I can work with that and it avoids the images associated with space marines. See attached.
    Occupying colonies - yes, I get that the espatier unit woud have a large number of force multipliers in the form of robots in the cargo hold, plus new ones fabbed up on site, plus whatever they could suborn and be useful in occupying the site. However, you're going to need human judgement behind those bots and surveillance feeds and with no to minimal light speed lag. The ideal goal is to keep the locals from wanting to sabotage your efforts to rebuild their colony into a FOB for whatever power. So, I think the human touch would be very useful.

    Now some questions - you've provided an illustration of the general purpose 'bot. But what are some of the broad types in the BD setting? Bush bots? Human imitators?
    What is medical treatment like in the BD? Is tissue engineering common for replacing organs and limbs? Or is it cybernetics all the way? Or some mix? I'll bet telemedicine is taken to a level that would boggle us. Doctors and nurses making house calls through teleoperated robots, or being on call at a hospital 200 miles away while staying in your living room are two that immediately come to mind.
    The medical question brought up some demographic questions for me. IIRC, the three major PC types are human, AI and nu ape. So, what are their typical ages? Lifespans? Causes of death?"

  4. Whew! Lets deal with all that in Friday's post, shall we?


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